Why Taking Your Shoes Off is More Than Just a Clean Habit — It’s a Sign of Respect

published Aug 20, 2022
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One of the most heated and controversial topics in the realm of cleaning and organizing is the great debate on whether or not it’s best to wear shoes on or off in the home. It can be a fiery argument — and I can see valid reasons on both sides.

On one hand, people prefer to keep their shoes on because they want their feet out of sight or they deal with sensitivity, while on the other hand, people favor taking their shoes off for cleanliness reasons or because it’s the cultural norm. (And there are some people that have an “outside shoes off, but house shoes on” approach.)

Whether you have a “shoes-on” or “shoes-off” policy at home, it comes down to personal preference. But, when you go into someone else’s home, I argue that you should respect what their wishes are instead of your own desires.

Being raised in Hawaiʻi, I’ve never known any different than a “shoes-off” policy. It’s kind of a hallmark image of what you can expect to see when you visit someone’s home for a gathering or potluck. You swing by, take your slippers off, and leave them outside. Piles and piles of footwear would be there and at the end of the night, you’d all look around and try to figure out which ones are yours (and sometimes leave with someone else’s and laugh about it when you return it later on). The tradition dates back to plantation days when immigrants came and brought along their own cultures and customs.

Taking your shoes off is a common practice throughout Asian and Middle Eastern countries — and oftentimes it started for hygienic purposes. Many people sleep on mats or eat at a table on the floor, so it makes sense to leave footwear at the door.

And there’s scientific backing too. Researchers at the University of Houston discovered that 40 percent of shoes carry C. difficile, aka C. diff, a nasty antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It might make you think twice about walking around the home and sitting on the bed with your shoes on.

Personally, I’ve found that a “shoes-off” policy is more than just an act of cleanliness — it’s a sign of respect. For many places around the world, it’s a standard practice and way of life. Growing up in Hawaiʻi, a beautiful melting pot of cultures, and as an Asian American, taking off your shoes and leaving them at the door can be very symbolic too.

For instance, when I see a gathering of shoes outside someone’s home, I know they are having a great time together. And when I’m about to enter a home, I immediately take my shoes off to show that I care for their place by leaving my dirty footwear behind.

It’s perfectly fine to do whatever your preferences are at your own home, but, when you’re about to walk into someone else’s door, consider asking them first what they do and following through with it. It’s important to honor the home you enter and respect their traditions.